Mothers Who Make

by Kate Feld

It’s well known that writing is a solitary kind of art, and writing hybrid or multi-genre work, as I do, could well be its most solitary subdivision. The poets and the fiction writers, the essayists and the dramatists – it can feel as though all of them have their own communities, while people like me stand at the edge of these groups, not fully a part of any one of them.

But of course, I am not alone. I make my work as part of a personal constellation of other artists – most of them writers but not all – which has assembled itself across time and space just for me. I wanted to reflect today on what it means to be part of an artistic community.

First, there are the artists whose work and ideas speak to you – the ones, dead or alive, with whom you are in conversation. Yes, it can feel like a rather one-sided conversation, but there is no doing without it. During the process of making my text and photography project ‘Raw Milk’, I have been inhabited by the work of poets Claudia Rankine and Layli Long Soldier; the feminist economist Sylvia Federici; the philosopher-critics Joanna Russ and Hélène Cixous; filmmaker Agnès Varda; artist Jenny Holzer and too many musicians to list here. Without their work and what it did inside me, mine would not live. 

Then there are your people – the fellow artists with whom you have established mutual aid treaties, collaborations, collective endeavours, co-operations and other real-world dynamic and interactive relationships. When the pandemic hit, my poetry group evolved from a simple ‘let’s exchange work and feedback’ operation into a richer, more personal and more expansive thing – a kind of art family. We meet just once a month, but during the isolation of lockdown, it’s hard to overstate how essential that online meeting was, and how, afterwards, one felt that whatever had been coming unstuck was firmly reattached. We offer each other encouragement and real talk, solidarity and the level of insight that only comes after long-term, wholehearted engagement with each other’s work. We rant and rhapsodize and laugh. There is a positive sense of good things coming from our being together, whatever form that takes.

Alongside my writing group I am grateful to have artistic friendships and alliances with others far and wide. Sometimes these relationships formed in circumstances like meeting at a reading. But sometimes they began with one or the other of us getting in touch with a stranger on social media to tell them how much we liked their work. If someone’s art really means something to you, if you think it’s great, tell them! It’s so important that we reach out to each other now, when real world opportunities for response, discourse and celebration in the arts have dwindled, and it can often feel like one is making work in a vacuum. Maybe, we all need a little bit more help finding our people.

Having a community of others who get what you are trying to do and think it’s worth doing is an existential need for an artist. We are isolated in our work, where we operate outside mainstream society in what is, to others, a mysterious place (at best.) Yet there are opportunities for connection if you look – for writers, Manchester City of Literature is a helpful resource, with a listing of events, workshops and happenings both online and off, and Mothers Who Make (which meets monthly in Manchester, in other cities and regularly online) is a great source of fellowship for artist mothers of every kind. So much of art work is concerned with making connections – and while we are doing it we can benefit from connecting with other artists; not only when we are ready to share finished work, but at every stage of the creative process.